The Future State of the Cloud

Here are some trends revealed from a decade’s worth of research.

Guest Commentary, Guest Commentary

May 24, 2021

6 Min Read
Credit: Alexander via Adobe Stock

As the concept of infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) began to dominate IT thinking in 2012, the time was right to better understand how companies were relying on IaaS cloud computing providers. So was born annual research that delved into how organizations’ cloud strategies and how their cloud usage met business needs.

On the heels of the 10th annual Flexera State of the Cloud I took a look back to highlight trends and signify areas of focus for the years ahead.


In the early 2010s, with the volatility in the public cloud space as new cloud providers emerged (and some existing ones retreated and eventually disappeared), cloud adoption was shifting from ad hoc to strategic. IT executives had the foresight to realize that multi-cloud was -- and would continue to be -- a viable and desirable approach for their IT estates of the future.

In that very first survey conducted in April of 2012, 68% of respondents indicated that their organization relied on a multiload approach. Among enterprises (organizations with 1,000 or more employees), the number with a multi-cloud approach grew significantly, from 77% in 2013 (when it was named “the strategy of choice for the enterprise”) and pushing beyond the 80% mark (82%) in 2105. Today 92% of enterprises have a multi-cloud strategy, with 55% of enterprise workloads expected to be in public cloud within the coming 12 months.



During this period of research, organizations faced strikingly similar and consistent challenges with their cloud initiatives. Not surprisingly, security was viewed as the No. 1 cloud challenge to be addressed, particularly for those organizations that were new to the public cloud. With time, as organizations gained cloud experience, this challenge dropped in their priority list, but never very far from the top.

As new organizations made their way into the cloud, they brought their security concerns along with them, thus keeping security at, or near the top of the “challenges” list every year.  In fact, security was the No. 1 cloud challenge cited by organizations in nine out of the 10 years. “Lack of resources and expertise” edged out security as the top cloud challenge in 2016; as more and more organizations began adopting cloud, they also brought their lack of knowledge and experience to these new environments. Today, security remains a top consideration for cloud initiatives.


Experimentation that Yielded Adoption

In a review of the last 10 years, experimentation that leads to widespread adoption is a major theme. It should come as no surprise that the services and technologies that organizations increasingly experiment with year-over-year are often used in production environments, becoming standard parts of many IT toolkits.

The majority of services that saw increased experimentation year over year realized increased adoption. To date, technologies such as data warehousing services (now used by 54% of all respondents), serverless technologies (currently used by 44%), and database-as-a-service (DBaaS) offerings (used by 47%) have seen increased adoption. The related container-as-a-service (CaaS) offerings (used by 49%) from the public cloud providers (including Amazon Web Services ECS and EKS, Azure Kubernetes Service, and Google Kubernetes Engine) have been on the rise. Kubernetes, a container orchestration tool, was the fastest-growing technology in both experimentation and adoption in the course of this research, jumping from 7% usage in the 2016 report to 58% in the 2020 report.

(There are always exceptions. OpenStack is a fitting example. Its experimentation increased each year until roughly 2019, when it tapered off, never achieving the general adoption that many had predicted when it first started to make waves around 2012.)

Predictions Based on Recent Experimentation

If findings from a decade’s worth of research are predictive, these technologies and tools are the ones that may experience increased adoption:

  • Configuration management tools: Growth of configuration management tools is on the rise, though this varies among tools; many organizations now use more than one. Back in the early days of this research, Chef and Puppet ruled the roost, each peaking as high as the 50% adoption mark among enterprises in the 2019 report. It was at this point that we started to see increased experimentation with Ansible and Terraform, each of now adopted by more than one-third of all enterprise respondents. This coincides with Puppet and Chef experiencing significant decreases in adoption, with even fewer organizations planning on using and/or experimenting with these tools.

  • Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS): Recently, there is continued experimentation and increased adoption of public cloud PaaS services. These include data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML), and the internet of things (IoT).  Among enterprises, AI/ML has the highest rate of experimentation, with 28% of enterprises experimenting with it; another 42% are already using it and 17% plan to do so. Increasingly, today’s industry relies on services such as these that are becoming standard parts of operations.

Enhance Your Cloud Initiatives

Running throughout the research are themes of what individual organizations are doing to enhance their own cloud initiatives. To ensure that your business has a strong standing as cloud usage continues to grow and evolve:

  • Ensure efficient integration: Cloud usage doesn’t stand outside of an organization’s strategic and tech initiatives; it facilitates them. Make the transition to the cloud as efficient as possible as you integrate cloud goals into your production environment.

  • Review your cloud (and multi-cloud) strategy: As usage goes up, so do costs. In 2021, more than 3 out of 4 organizations (76%) are spending $1.2 million per year ($100,000 monthly) on cloud. The number of organizations in the highest cloud spend bracket ($12 million annually or $1 million/month) has nearly doubled in the past year alone. A strategic approach to your cloud strategy, paired with cloud cost optimization efforts, is critically important in order to keep pace with the anticipated growth in usage. 

  • Evaluate your usage of public cloud services: As the number of services available from across public cloud providers grows, so do opportunities for your organization. What public cloud services has your organization been using? What’s working, what isn’t? When is it time to prioritize as part of your ongoing cloud initiatives?

What was true in 2012 remains so today: Companies of all sizes have a plethora of cloud solution options to meet their business needs. By reviewing the data from 10 years of the State of the Cloud and by observing the trends it reveals, organizations can orient their IT landscapes toward successful cloud deployments.


Brian Adler is senior director of cloud market strategy at Flexera and was previously a senior director analyst at Gartner. The Flexera (previously RightScale) State of the Cloud was first released in 2012.


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